Sometimes when we think we’ve followed the wrong path in life, it helps to spend some time with someone who has without a doubt chosen poorly. Such is the case in Todd Rohal’s triumphant slice of low-budget absurdity, The Catechism Cataclysm. Rohal, who first made some minor waves five years ago with The Guatemalan Handshake, delivers several stories within stories with Catechism, all revolving around a canoe trip undertaken by dopey Father Billy (Steve Little) and washed-up roadie Robbie (Robert Longstreet).
Since childhood, Father Billy has worshiped Robbie – memorizing and retelling the short stories Robbie came up with in high school. Billy even tells these brief tales to his congregation, although they provide no scriptural insight or moral point. When it’s suggested by an elder priest that Billy take a vacation so he can meditate about his role in the church, he decides to take a canoe trip instead. He invites along his idol, Robbie. After Billy floods Robbie’s inbox with pleas, Robbie begrudgingly agrees to hit the river with the rabidly enthusiastic priest.
Steve Little is an American genius. Deal with it.
For decade, Billy has held a particular image in his head of Robbie: that of the high school metal god he remembers. The badass who would write amazing short stories when he wasn’t rocking the panties off of women. But that was then and now Robbie is a spotlight operator for the Ice Capades. He also has no idea that Billy has idolized him all this time and he’s even a bit turned off when Billy first reveals his stalwart passion. Briefly into the unlikely duo’s trip, it’s easy to see that while Billy has followed his path of being a priest, Robbie has given up on his dream of rock stardom. As different as they are, they both have a lot in common.
Sounds like some fairly standard buddy-road trip movie fare, huh? Catechism is certainly not that. During the tail end, the movie does a complete 180 and defies everything the audience could have predicted. This is where a lot of viewers (and critics) seemed to get lost. Dig: Billy and Robbie cross paths with two female Japanese tourists who go by the tongue-in-cheek names “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.” They have a very large African American compatriot named (you guessed it ) “Jim.” Once night falls and these two parties sit around the campfire at night, **** gets weird.
Robert Longstreet is a scary good actor. Put him in every movie from now on, please.
But not too weird, in my opinion. If you can shrug off conventions for a while, the events make sense while also leaving enough room for interpretation. Like the short stories Robbie made up in high school, Catechism doesn’t have an ending most people will deem acceptable. There’s no closure. But when you think about Billy’s journey with Robbie, it makes perfect ****ing sense. See, Billy started to stray from his path so he met up with Robbie – a man who had obviously given up on his initial goals in life. Things get absolutely insane so Billy asks God for help. God answers his prayers. Maybe not in the way Billy expected, but God still performs one helluva miracle and manages to reset Billy on his priestly path.
Steve Little, known best for his role as Kenny Powers’ yes-man Stevie Janowski on Eastbound and Down, is immensely endearing. Even when he does his best to act angry, you want to just put your arms around him and say “I’ve been there, bro.” I don’t understand why Little hasn’t gotten more high profile comedic roles (besides a recent one episode spot on 30 Rock). The man is a genius. A natural in the most pure sense of the word. Robert Longstreet (who starred in last year’s criminally underseen Septien) radiates repressed depression with jarring expertise. He’s scary good at times in this movie. Robert Longstreet is seriously one really, really talented actor. Together, Little and Longstreet are seamlessly believable in their brief love/hate relationship. As pointed out in the film, they’re like Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men, but without all the rape and murder.